While many tech users are familiar with “the cloud” offering additional storage for photos or contacts, fewer know the ins and outs of cloud computing. In the most basic of terms, cloud computing refers to accessing and storing information and programs via the cloud (i.e. the internet), as opposed to on your hard drive (or local network). Due to the fact that information on a local network is physically close, running programs or accessing files stored there is relatively fast; however, hard drives have a finite amount of space and can experience lags or even crashes if they get too overwhelmed. To combat this, businesses and organizations often turn to cloud computing.

There are three basic cloud computing architectures: public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds. Boiled down, these names refer to the network on which the services and infrastructure are stored. Therefore, a public cloud is generally owned and managed by a third-party cloud provider and accessed with a user account through a web browser. Private clouds, on the other hand, are used only by a specific company or organization; the private cloud may be hosted by a third-party provider, but the services and infrastructure are maintained by the private network. The last type — a hybrid cloud — is a combination of private and public clouds which allow users to incorporate data and applications from various sources. This provides more flexibility in infrastructure, a wider range of deployment options, and increased optimization of existing services.

While local networks ran the technology world for decades, the rise of 3G and then 4G networks allowed users to access data and software on the cloud at a relatively comparable speed to those on the local network. With the ongoing development of 5G, local networks may become obsolete as data transfer rates skyrocket and security concerns are addressed. We’re already seeing devices, like Google’s Chromebook, which have virtually no local storage, instead relying almost entirely on the cloud for functionality.

The average consumer uses such a wide variety of applications and services that a normal hard drive would be completely bogged down — if not simply too small — to be functional. Cloud computing fixes this problem, but is not without its own concerns, most of which revolve around the telecom companies (i.e. the ISP, or internet service provider). Broadly, these concerns focus around data privacy and ownership.

Without a singular body or governing entity overseeing the regulation and security protocols of cloud services, not only may data be susceptible to malware or hackers, but the data may be owned, analyzed, or sold by the ISP depending on their own terms of service. We’ve seen this topic surface in regards to Facebook ads which targeted users by tailoring the ads to their interests, prompting critics to dub such targeting a form of manipulation.

The other primary concern is centered around intellectual property (i.e. ownership). While few cloud services claim to own files or data that users upload, there is a substantially higher portion that lay claim to any data created using their service. This was seen in a case against Facebook, which was using photos uploaded to private pages for marketing purposes without the poster’s consent. To protect themselves, all Facebook needed to do was update their user agreement to include a clause stating that any content posted to their platforms (including Instagram, which they acquired in 2012) were considered their own property. User’s upset by this were faced with only two options: either agree to have their personal photos owned by Facebook, or disengage from the platforms all together.

Cloud services also offer businesses the ability to utilize existing infrastructures and softwares, rather than place the burden on them to create their own, allowing for rapid growth and much less work on the start up side of things. On the other hand, some clients are concerned with the possibility of crashes and outages, making services or even whole companies temporarily inoperable, or future data metering which would increase charges on clients as they utilize more data.